President Mohamed Irfaan Ali’s inauguration address has generated a fierce debate. It has been the subject to less than flattering front page commentaries, editorials and letters to the editors.
Ironically, the President’s address drew sustained applause and was greeted with a standing ovation upon completion. The attendees were no doubt caught up in the emotion of being present at what was a VIP and VVIP affair.
These VIPs and VVIPs had waited five months for this occasion. And they exhaled with vigorous and sustained hand clapping, oblivious to the fact that they were applauding the superfluous and superficial.
President Ali’s address was poorly crafted. It was heavily punctuated with shibboleths and tired clichés. Ali was equipped with bag full of slogans such as the Guyanese people standing as “one people, one nation, one destiny”, “every citizen within it is equal and will be treated equally”, “my first and last responsibility will be to the people of Guyana” “walk with kings … but never lose the common touch”, “no one will be left behind”, “scratching a living”, “people…must not be second-class and third-class citizens in their own land”, “we must climb the mountain top of prosperity” and “we still have a nation to build and a people to raise-up”.
The President’s speech writers fell asleep on the job. He described those who defended democracy as being part of the “lexicon of heroes of our nation”. There can be a legion of heroes. But a “lexicon of heroes”?
All of these are meaningless clichés, slogans and jargons unless they are backed by policies which would allow them to be realized. Ali’s address – full of words but lacking in substance – failed this vital test.
The PPP/C had five years to prepare for government and five months to wait to assume office. It hit the ground running but in which direction is not clear, at least not from the President’s address. It clearly did not develop a detailed sector-strategies approach before it assumed office, as many assumed it was doing while in the Opposition and in the interregnum between the elections and the declaration of results.
An inaugural speech presents a newly-minted President with the occasion to inform his country’s citizens how their lives will be changed by the end of his term. It provides an opportunity for him to move beyond articulating short-term measures. President Ali did not seize this chance.
The President browsed over a number of areas in his presentation: private sector development, energy, infrastructure, training, sugar, labour relations, constitutional reform, security, territorial integrity, COVID-19, labour and foreign relations. While an inauguration speech may not be suited to deal comprehensively with all of these issues, it should at least outline the broad policy framework. This was a major shortcoming of the President’s address.
The President’s inauguration address was in dissonance with his swearing-in address. He said then that constitutional and electoral reform would have been among his priorities. Electoral reform escaped mention in the inauguration address. And constitutional reform, he said, would be pursued through a consultative process – euphemism for placing such reforms on the backburner. The President offered no proposals as to the type of reforms which are likely to emanate from his government. Perhaps he has none.
The role of the private sector was given special prominence. But even they would be disappointed with the promises made. The President made a proposal for a single-window clearance system, something which has been promised about for more than 10 years. Nothing was said about tax reform and no specific measures were detailed as to the manufacturing sector.
Except for the half-baked measures announced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the speech was terribly short on specifics. No plans were detailed for the resuscitation of the sugar industry. It was not mentioned how the 50,000 promised jobs would materialize. Nor did he state his approach to parliamentary reforms or about his promise to streamline the public service.
The greatest disappointment, however, was the PPP/C’s backpedalling on its commitment to renegotiate the deplorable terms of the ExxonMobil contract. The President was strangely silent on this issue committing to ensure instead that all Guyanese benefit from the petroleum industry. But strangely he was silent on revamping the local content policy and about his plans for the ill-equipped Department of Energy.
The promise of oil riches will become a mirage unless the oil agreements’ unfavourable terms are immediately renegotiated. Ignoring this demand during his address represents an egregious oversight on the part of the President for which he owes this nation an explanation. After all, it was his party which promised to renegotiate the oil agreements.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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